Oscar Vault Monday – The Hollywood Revue of 1929, 1929 (dir. Charles Reisner)
This is such a strange film. It was MGM’s second feature-length musical and one of the studio’s earliest sound films. Unlike most MGM musicals, this film really has no overarching plot. Like the title suggests, it’s just a revue – a series of skits, songs and dance numbers by basically everyone on the MGM lot (the only major MGM stars of the era missing are Lon Chaney, Ramon Navarro and Greta Garbo). The film was only nominated for Best Picture and the other films up for the top prize that year were Alibi, In Old Arizona, The Patriot (now a lost film) and winner The Broadway Melody (also an MGM musical).
Producer Harry Rapf apparently tired to make similar film after this one was so successful (it was the 13th highest grossing film of 1929), but had to abandon the project. The kind of skits that comprise this film continued to be made throughout the studio era, though they were released as shorts and I think they probably work a lot better than way.
Look at that galaxy of stars! I would think at the time seeing allllll these stars in one movie must have been a real hoot for audiences, which explains the film’s popularity at the time. Also in the film’s chorus, though not listed above, were Ann Dvorak and Renée Adorée.
I’m not going to write about every skit in the film, nor will I write all that much since this is the kind of film that ought to be seen and heard to really be appreciated. The movement of the dancers is something words will never be able to capture. The film opens with a bizarre chorus line sequence that goes back and forth from solarized and then not solarized for absolutely no reason whatsoever other than because it looks awesome.
Then we get introduced to our emcees: Jack Benny and Conrad Nagel. Why these two guys? Who knows. But they show up in between most of the skits (and take part in a few as well).
God I love every single phase of Joan Crawford’s career (and my word she had so many!). She’s so vibrant and gorgeous and confident in her late-20s/early-30s dancing films and in this film she gets a chance to not only dance, but show off some pipes that I did not know she had. Her number makes the whole film worth it in my book. Crawford was in over 100 films and television episode in a nearly fifty year career and was nominated for three Oscars, winning once: Mildred Pierce (1945, won), Possessed (1947) and Sudden Fear (1952).
I couldn’t find much on June Purcell, as this was one of only two films she is credited with, but damn look at those gams in that outfit!
Conrad Nagel serenades Anita Page in a lovely piano number while Charles King watches on in awe. Anita Page was one of MGM’s most popular stars from 1925-1933, when her contract expired she retired at the age of 23, though she made one film in 1936, one in 1961, one in 1996 and four films in the 00s, before dying in 2008 at the age of 98. In 1929, Page also appeared in Best Picture winner The Broadway Melody.
Page’s Broadway Melody co-star, Bessie Love was nominated for Best Actress for her work in that film and in this film, she appears first in Jack Benny’s pocket. He then pulls her out and places her on his hand before telling her she needs to grow up or he will not talk to her. It is a truly bizarre piece of filmmaking.
Love then proceeds to sing a song while being literally tossed in the air by a group of silk-polka-dotted men. I don’t even know what to tell you.
Everyone’s favorite, Marie Dressler sings a great song about being the queen, then is later joined by Love and Polly Moran for a trio in which the three wear a series of bizarre costumes. Dressler was nominated for Best Actress twice, winning once: Min and Bill (1930, won) and Emma (1932).
This film happens to be Laurel and Hardy’s first talky. Their skit sees the two of them as a pair of unsuccessful magicians and ends with Jack Benny being covered in candle wax. I am telling you folks, this is a bizarre film that must be seen to be believed.
Y’all should probably just read Marion Davies’s Wikipedia article because she was so fascinating and there’s way too much to write about where she’s concerned. In this film Davies is dwarfed by a bunch of men dressed like British guards while she sings a plucky patriotic march in a pair of trousers.
Carla Laemmle, who is still alive and kicking at the ripe old age of 103, dances a really scandalous pearl dance with the Albertina Ballet. Look at that costume! I forgot to mention Erté did uncredited work on the sets and costumes and I’m willing to bet this was one of the numbers he had his hand in.
Buster Keaton shows up for a really bizarre underwater sea dance that is filmed in such a way to seem like it’s underwater that now it just looks really blurry. Keaton is fun, as always, though.
I believe that is Conrad Nagel as fake Lon Chaney (early in 1929 Chaney developed pneumonia and was later diagnosed with cancer, from which he died in 1930), which then leads to Gus Edwards singing a song called “Lon Chaney’s Gonna Get You If You Don’t Watch Out” to a group of women dressed in pajamas. Eventually a chorus of men dressed like monsters come out and chase them. As I write about these skits, I like them more and more.
Norma Shearer and John Gilbert star in my favorite skit. It starts out with the two them doing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet (which is funny because seven years late Shearer would receive an Oscar nomination for her turn as Juliet opposite Leslie Howard as Romeo).
Lionel Barrymore as a director then interrupts the two lovers, stating that the studio has given him notes, changing the title of the film to “The Necker” and that the dialogue needs to be changed in order to add pep and make it more modern. The two then proceed to do the rest of the balcony scene in zippy, slang-filled speech. It is a real hoot. Gilbert is an example of a silent star who did not do well after the sound transition (although, as we now know with many of his fellow silent stars *cough* Clara Bow *cough*, this was probably more likely due to studio politics, than his voice). Shearer did well after the transition (being married to Thalberg probably helped) and was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning once: Their Own Desire (1929), The Divorcée (1930), A Free Soul (1931), The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934), Romeo and Juliet (1936) and Marie Antoinette (1938). Barrymore also did well, making over 200 films and working into the early-1950s. He was nominated in 1929 for Best Director for Madame X and won the award for Best Actor for 1931’s A Free Soul.
Did you know that the song Singin’ in the Rain was actually from the 1920s and that this was actually the first film in which it was featured? I did not know this, but now I do and so do all of you!
I forgot to mention the two-strip Technicolor in the Romeo and Juliet part of the film, but they use it again in this gorgeous ballet sequence.
It’s very Busby Berkeley-esque, but as far as I can tell he wasn’t involved in this production at all.
Then the film ends with the entire cast singing a reprise of Singin’ in the Rain in front of Noah’s Ark because as we have learned, this is a bizarre film and the producer and writers and directors were probably all on drugs when they made it. Okay, that might be a libelous statement, but damn is this film surreal. I guess most of the film was shot at night so as not to disrupt the stars’ shooting schedule for other films. Maybe that’s why it’s odd? All I know is, it’s available from the Warner Archive Collection and you need to see it to truly appreciate it in all its bizarre glory.
Posted on June 17, 2013, in Oscar Vault Monday and tagged 1929, Anita Page, Bessie Love, Carla Laemmle, Charles Reisner, Conrad Nagel, Erté, Gus Edwards, Jack Benny, Joan Crawford, John Gilbert, June Purcell, Laurel and Hardy, Lionel Barrymore, Lon Chaney, Marie Dressler, Marion Davies, Norma Shearer, Oliver Hardy, Polly Moran, Stan Laurel, The Hollywood Revue of 1929. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.